The biggest hurdle we have is a lack of funding. The agribusiness groups (In our state these are Virginia Cattlemen's Association, Virginia Poultry Grower's Association, Virginia Dairyman's Association, Virginia Farm Bureau, Virginia Food and Beverage Association, et al.) have deep pockets to both fund propaganda and to buy off legislators in-order to reduce the choices of consumers. Extra money for large scale advertising isn't something a radical fringe farmer like myself has lying around.
But over the last couple of decades or so some companies and restaurants have taken a position that they will support small direct sales farms with high ethical standards and quality. One such restaurant is the fast food chain Chipotle.
Chipotle made it part of their business model to purchase as much of their ingredients as possible from producers that meet their high standards. They found that folks were willing to pay a little extra to have their chicken burrito with antibiotic free chicken on it and with pork that was raised outdoors. Chipotle is now a 3.3 billion dollar business that purchases primarily from farmers not packing houses like Tyson and Smithfield.
The Agribusiness community was cool with this arrangement until Chipotle started making waves. In 2011 Chipotle, which had not made much use of traditional advertising, made a short ad called "Back To The Start" that primarily ran on YouTube. It featured a farmer who questioned the changes that had come to agriculture in his life time and made a change on his own farm. Then came the "Scarecrow" ad. This one questioned the idea of marketing food as "Farm Fresh" when most supermarket food is hardly that at all. This one caused a stir. But their most recent media release has many in the Agribusiness world furious.
Monday was the premier of their new series on Hulu, "Farmed And Dangerous". This time Chipotle put $1 million on the line to take a satirical look at food production and manipulation of public perception of our current system. The show's antagonist is Buck Marshall who runs a company, I.F.I.B.(get it? I fib), that does damage control for Animoil, an industrial food producer. The show is complete fiction but that hasn't occurred to many in the agribusiness world.
I personally find all the cries of foul as funny. As I pointed out earlier, farmers like myself have not had a voice for a long time. Now there is someone out there firing shots over the bow of industrial Agriculture, and they don't like it. One farmer and representative for the Montana Stock Growers, Ryan Goodman, said that Chipotle should have talked to real farmers if they had concerns about production practices and not just those producing food the way Chipotle and their customers want.
Goodman tweeted that he found no humor in the Chipotle series:
I will agree with Goodman in one area, it isn't fun to be thrown under the bus. Maybe some of these Agribusiness Associations will realize that now and take steps to represent farmers like myself and quit their own selling of fear. But I won't hold my breath on that one.
What do you think? Did Chipotle go too far or not far enough? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.